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Food prices rose modestly last year, and the experts who produce the annual Canada's Food Price Report see more of the same in 2018 – increases of 1 to 3 per cent.

Feel like your own personal inflation rate on food costs is higher than that? The reason is this country's growing appetite for restaurant dining. The food price report notes that Americans are dividing their food spending evenly between supermarkets and restaurants, and Canadians are expected to reach this threshold by 2035 or earlier. This is significant for your household spending, because the food inflation rate at restaurants has been double what it is at grocery stores. For 2018, the food price report forecasts restaurant price increases of 4 to 6 per cent.

These number reinforce the standard personal finance advice to cut back on restaurant meals, but let's get real. People are eating out more because they're busy and they like it. The trend is towards more eating out, not less.

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In that light, take a look at this list of things you should never order in restaurants for reasons of both value and health. A few things keep coming up. Avoid the special of the day because it's often made up of ingredients that have been lying around (same with soup of the day). Avoid chicken for a few reasons, one of them being that it's often undercooked. You'll also end up thinking twice about salads and draft beer.

Finally, here's some discouraging news if you're planning to eat salad at home. Veggies sold at supermarkets are expected to post the highest food inflation rate this year at 4 to 6 per cent.

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Rob's personal finance reading list…

These are the year's top travel rewards cards
RewardsCanada picks its top cards in six different travel rewards categories, including best overall card. Worth a look to see how your current card matches up.

Does a retiree living on savings have the right to be "unproductive?"
A civilized debate on this question appeared recently on a website called Quora. One person writes: "I don't do any real work now; I only do what I enjoy. Are you really okay with that? I'm not even sure I am."

Faceoff: DIY investing vs. a robo-adviser
A blogger offers a cost comparison showing, of course, that investing for yourself is cheaper. However, the extra cost of getting some help from a robo-adviser is not prohibitive. You pay more, but you get more in the way of assistance in building and managing a portfolio. If you're a DIY investor looking to change online brokers or open a first account, here's a list of deals being offered to lure new clients.

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The best money you've ever spent
There's a grindingly off-putting side to the standard personal finance advice to save, save, save. It fails to recognize that balance in life is healthy and that occasional spending is fine, even to be encouraged. Here's a blogger's take on the three expenses that gave her huge value. Now for a look at some research that shows it can be good for your overall financial health to save up for something you want rather than need.

A guide to OAS and GIS for new Canadians
Tips from John Stapleton, an expert on low-income retirement planning, on how people who came to Canada as adults can determine how much Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement they can claim.

Today's featured financial tool
Looking for exchange-traded funds that meet your investing needs? Try the ETF Finder offered by the independent investment analysis company Morningstar.

Ask Rob
The question: "I am self-employed and make $72,000 a year. I am in credit-card debt and I'm having a hell of a time trying to get a mortgage. How can I get a mortgage without going to a bank?"

The answer: Have you checked in with a mortgage broker or two? They typically have access to a wide number of lenders, including those specializing in non-traditional clients like you. A broker may find a fit, though potentially at a higher rate than normal.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can't answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length.

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Featured Video
Carrick Talks Money: What do I do with my pension heading into retirement?

What I've been writing about
– Reverse mortgages are a growing temptation, but proceed with caution

– How you're getting richer, even as the cost of being in debt rises

– Index investing as a low-fee solution? Not so fast (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

More Carrick and money coverage
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